Kobe Bryant is retiring at the end of this season. Tim Duncan will not be far behind him. Both are two of the greatest players that have ever played the game of basketball. But which one is the greatest player of this generation?
Bryan Lambert: It would be almost cliché to anoint Kobe Bryant as the NBA’s brightest and flashiest star of the decade while Tim Duncan quietly ascended to greatness with minimal fan fair.
But that is the case.
Duncan is one of the game’s best leaders. He is the signal caller, the defensive general and the man who always comes up in the clutch. While Kobe did eventually figure out how to be a championship caliber leader, (2009) Duncan has been going about his business since first stepping on the hardwood.
While Kobe won his first three titles with a Shaquille O’Neal who was in the middle of one of the most dominant stretches in NBA history, Duncan won his first two with a David Robinson nearing the end of his career.
The trio of Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker might be the winningest trio in NBA history but neither Ginobili nor Parker was ever among the NBA’s elite players. Duncan helped make them better.
Between 2005-2007, while Kobe was busy trying to prove he could carry a team without a second superstar (and alienating several teammates along the way), Duncan was doing what he does best. Making his teammates better and anchoring two championships.
Matt Zampini: I love me some Timmy Duncan. He is one of, if not the best power forwards of all time. But as far as this generation goes, I think Kobe is the best. All the young guys in the league now looked up to Kobe. A lot of players emulated their games growing up after him, as you hear now with all the comments coming out now that he’s announced his retirement.
Kobe is one of the best scorers in NBA history. It didn’t matter what teams threw at Kobe, he would beat it. I can almost drop the mic with Kobe’s 81-point performance against the Toronto Raptors in 2006 (second highest point total in a game in NBA history). I mean, that was legendary. I know he had a lot of problems with his teammates. Maybe he was hard to play with, I’m not really sure. But that doesn’t take away from his greatness. This isn’t a question about who was a better teammate, it’s about who is the best player.
It doesn’t matter that Kobe had Shaq with him when he won all those titles. Is Michael Jordan any less of a player because he had Scottie Pippen?
I mean, he’s averaged over 25 points per game throughout his 20 seasons with the Lakers.
Lambert: Michael Jordan winning his titles with Scottie Pippen isn’t a discredit to him because Jordan was still the unquestioned team leader. When Kobe and Shaq played together Shaq was in an unprecedented period of dominance.
He was the MVP of the league in 2000 and the finals MVP from 2000 to 2002. His field goal percentage during those three seasons: .574, .572, .579. Defenders had no hope of stopping him. He was just as great in the playoffs, averaging 30.7, 30.4 and 28.5 during those three years.
As much as he hates to admit it, Kobe was second fiddle to the Big Diesel on those championship teams.
Duncan was the best player on a champion in his second year in the league.
Yeah, Kobe could score but Duncan was never an offensive slouch either.
He’s been a consistent walking double-double throughout his career and during the 2003 playoffs when Duncan carried his team to a second title, he averaged 24 points, 15 rebounds and six assists.
Couple that with his defensive abilities that he has refined as he got older (right now he’s ranked first in the NBA in defensive points allowed per 100 possessions), it should be clear Duncan is the more complete player.
Zampini: I just keep going back to how great of a scorer Kobe was. Getting to the basket, getting into the lane, his fade away jumper, mid-range jumper and his three-point shot: there hasn’t been a player that can do all those things in a while. He set the model for players to come.
People in the media always talk about how Michael Jordan had a “killer instinct” at the end of games. He knew how to finish teams off. Kobe had that, too. He had a clutch gene. One of the greatest things I’ve ever seen was watching him hit the game-tying and game-winning jumpers against the Suns in playoffs in 2006.
He’s won five NBA championships. He won two Finals MVPs. He’s made the all-star game 17 times (second most all time). And a very underrated part of his game has been his defense. He made NBA All-Defensive First Team nine times. He also has two Olympic gold medals.
We can debate this until the cows come home. Both are great players and will be in the Hall of Fame. But at the end of the day, if I had to pick a player to go up against, I’m picking to go against Duncan. I don’t want to face Kobe because he had that “killer instinct” and could drop 40 points every night.